Did Glee glamourize eating disorders? (+9 healthy coping skills)

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In this blog post, we shall answer the question “did Glee glamourize eating disorders?” and look at what the show was all about and what it said about eating disorders. We will also look at what eating disorders are and the types of eating disorders.

Did Glee glamourize eating disorders?

Yes, many people have called out Glee for glamorizing eating disorders. Fans and followers took to social media to complain and point out how Glee glamourized eating disorders instead of spreading awareness on how to treat and prevent it.

The series starts off with a group from the school Glee’s club called the new directions. The students in the group are the “geeks” and “losers” of the school who are considered misfits and those that are bullied. The group then becomes a safe haven for students to express their feelings through singing.

Although they appreciate the effort to talk about issues affecting young people, many still feel like they should have done extensive research on eating disorders, the struggles people with the disorders go through and the right treatment plan for them. We will look extensively into the episodes talking about eating disorders, but before that let us look at what Glee is and what eating disorders are.

What is Glee?

Glee is an American musical comedy-drama television series that aired on the Fox network in the United States from May 2009 to March 20 2015. It centres on a glee club called the New Directions at William McKinley high school and which competes in a show choir as the members are still dealing with social issues.

The social issues depicted in the series include bullying, sexuality, race, relationships, teamwork and family. Apart from the millions of views, the music in Glee has been a commercial success with over 36 million digital single sales and eleven million album sales worldwide in October 2011. The series merchandise included Blu-ray releases, DVD, an iPad application and karaoke games for the Wii home video game console.

Critics

Although the series Glee tried to capture actual issues faced in society, i.e. eating disorders, some people felt like they did not do justice in exploring the real issues and how bad eating disorders could be. In episode 6 of season 4, Marley is seen throwing up (probably purging) before going on stage.

When confronted by her then-boyfriend, she doesn’t look sickly after purging. She has a perfect face with no bloodshot eyes, running mascara from crying, swollen face or saliva filled fingers from trying to force the contents out of the stomach. People feel like this does not show the reality of how a person looks when having a purging episode.

Critics also feel like the phrase “I don’t want to kiss a girl who’s got puke on her breath.” that made Marley get herself together makes eating disorders an easy disorder to get through while that is not the truth. It takes a lot of effort, support, therapy and even hospitalization to come out of the illness.

After she collapses on stage, the team blames her for losing and this, coupled with some therapy acts as a “wake-up call.” Her behaviours stop almost immediately and she does not get any relapses. In reality, it takes a lot of effort from the sufferer and people close to them to get over the disorder.

People generally feel like Glee did not portray the horrible realities of what happens when one suffers from an eating disorder and instead glamourized it. For us to understand what eating disorders are, let us look at its definition, warning signs, types and risk factors.

Some teenagers suffering from eating disorders took to social media to express their dissatisfaction with how the show portrayed eating disorders. An eleven-year-old male said, “I am writing to you to address your episode on eating disorders. I speak from experience. I am 11 years old and going on 12 and I am currently battling Anorexia. I have had an eating disorder for almost a year now and I personally am very mad about the way you portrayed the disease. I love Glee, and watch it all the time, but not I am having doubts. First off, if you really develop an eating disorder it would most certainly take more than two days to recover. Second, if Marley really did faint in music class, the teachers would send her to the hospital. After reading this, I hope you make dire changes to your show from now on. How appropriate that I am writing in February which is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month.”

Another girl, 14 years of age and struggling with an eating disorder also felt like Glee glamorised the disorder. She said, “I have had an eating disorder for two years and have been in and out of treatment since. On your show, the character Marley has an eating disorder for two days and then magically recovers… The point of my letter is to let you know that eating disorders aren’t a joke. I’ve been in treatment for two years and have missed out on so much of my life. I have fainted and been hospitalized many times. On your show, Marley faints and then goes back to everyday life… but as a show, you have an obligation to thoroughly research any type of medical condition you write into your script.”

Although others may defend the show by saying that they might not have enough time to portray the dangers of having eating disorders, many feel that they should not have aired such a sensitive matter if they are not going to show the real struggle people suffering from eating disorders go through.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating habits, and complex and damaging relationships between food, exercise and body image that impairs physical and mental health.

Types of eating disorders

Pica 

Pica is a feeding and eating disorder characterized by eating non-nutritive non-food substances such as ice, clay, soil, paper and stones. Can be caused by nutrition deficiencies, pregnancy, stress and cultural factors.

Rumination 

Rumination is an eating disorder characterized by spitting up digested or partially digested food from the stomach, re-chewing the food and either re-swallowing or spitting it out. It occurs within 30 minutes of every meal. The causes of rumination remain unknown.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Formally referred to as selective eating disorder, is an eating disorder characterized by intense restriction or selection of food consumed. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with this eating disorder are not interested in their body image, shape or size.

Anorexia nervosa

Is a severe eating disorder characterized by abnormal body weight, distorted body image, and unwarranted fear of gaining weight. In order to prevent weight gain, anorexic people try to control their body weight by vomiting food, using laxatives, diet aids, and excessive exercise.

Common symptoms include extreme low body weight, dizziness, insomnia, fatigue, dry skin, hair that easily falls off, preoccupation with food, skipping meals, refusing to eat, denying hunger, complaints of being overweight, measuring weight often and lying about the quantity of food taken.

Bulimia nervosa

Is a mental disorder characterized by binge eating (consuming large quantities of food over a short period of time) followed by calorie-reducing strategies such as purging (induced vomiting), fasting or exercising excessively. This si what is portrayed in Glee.

Bulimia is a severe, life-threatening eating disorder. Symptoms include; binge eating, vomiting, self-harm, fatigue, dehydration, avoiding food, irregular and absence of menstruation, constipation, heartburn and guilt.

Causes include genetic factors, psychological factors such as personality, dieting and societal pressure.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating is an eating disorder characterized by consuming large amounts of food over a short period of time, and feelings of being unable to stop eating even when full. It is the most common eating disorder with a prevalence of  5.5%.

Symptoms include; eating large amounts of food over a short period of time, eating even when not hungry, feeling that your eating behaviour is out of control, eating until you are uncomfortably full, eating in secret, eating alone and feelings of depression and guilt.

Treatment of Bulimia nervosa

Medication

Some antidepressants like Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors help in reducing episodes of binging and vomiting. They are also effective in treating depression and anxiety which are common co-occurring disorders among people with eating disorders like it is portrayed in the show Glee, by the main character Marley.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of therapy which helps a person with eating disorders change their negative thinking patterns about their self-image to more positive ones. Therapy also helps them deal with the underlying causes and triggers of their eating disorders. Finally, therapists can help them develop positive coping mechanisms for their life stressors.

Marley from Glee was taken to therapy after her mother discovered that she has been purging.

Support groups

These will not only help you feel like you are not alone in the journey of recovering from bulimia but will also give you a platform for free association where you can openly discuss the struggles of the illness without being ashamed or feeling guilty. Support groups also help in encouraging each other and keep one accountable.

Nutritive counselling

This involves having sessions with a registered dietitian or counsellor on healthy eating habits to help you get back on track and avoid relapses.

Conclusion

We have looked at what the series Glee is about and looked at how it glamourized eating disorders. We have also looked at what eating disorders are, the types and their symptoms. Finally, we have looked at the treatment options for eating disorders and 9 healthy coping tips for managing eating disorders.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: Did Glee glamourize eating disorders?

What is the death rate from eating disorders?

Without treatment, 20% of those with serious eating disorders die, while with treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%

What is the age that is more likely to suffer from an eating disorder?

Ages of 12-25. Eating disorders are more common in females than men.

What eating disorder did Marley have in Glee?

She is recovering from bulimia nervosa which Kitty lured her into by teaching her how to purge after eating.

Citations

Saliba L. (September 7, 2019). The Glamorisation of Eating Disorders in Glee. retrieved from https://lidyasaliba.medium.com/the-glamorisation-of-eating-disorders-in-television-c42a2f24abbe

Glee scenes, (June 30, 2016). Glee – Ryder tells Marley to stop puking 4×06. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awutQEjM4xg

Pretty little dead girl, (March 22, 2019). Glee – Marley Rose eating disorder clips. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hzeQU9lALQ

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